You are here
Applying to Oxbridge
Our guide will help you choose between these two prestigious universities.
Oxford and Cambridge have different admissions procedures you need to be aware of.
Our Oxbridge personal statements guide includes advice on talking about yourself, your subject and how to make your statement unique.
Our guide tells you what the Oxbridge admissions tutors are looking for, as well as pointers on how to prepare.
What makes Oxbridge unique?
Oxford and Cambridge universities are famous throughout the world for their first-class education, dreaming spires and long history.
They aim to seek the brightest of candidates, irrespective of background, with an application process in place to make sure these candidates stand out.
Both universities are diverse, exciting places to live, work and study during your degree, and offer a great stepping stone into your graduate career.
The collegiate system
Both Oxford and Cambridge universities are made up of individual colleges, as well as different academic departments. While academic departments are responsible for core teaching and assessment, a college will be your home when studying. Colleges provide academic and pastoral support and arrange small group tuition, sometimes with a tutor or supervisor from another college.
Each college will have a diverse range of students — usually including both undergraduate and graduate students — studying across a range of subject areas.
The college system offers the benefits of belonging to a large, internationally renowned university, and also to a smaller, interdisciplinary academic college community. You will have access to your college's facilities, such as an extensive library and IT provision, as well as the resources of the wider university.
You are able to specify a preferred college when you make your UCAS application. Whatever you may have heard, college choice does not matter! Each offers the same excellent standard of teaching and the same high academic standards.
Both universities work hard to ensure that the best students are successful in gaining a place, whichever college they’ve applied to. This means that you may be interviewed by more than one college and you may receive an offer from a different college than applied to. If you prefer not to choose a college, you can make an open application.
Once you have submitted your UCAS application you will be committed to your choice of college, so do your research beforehand.
Personal tutor sessions and seminars
Teaching methods are similar at both universities, with lectures, seminars, classes and laboratory work as appropriate for your course.
Unlike at many other universities, Oxford and Cambridge students also benefit from one-on-one teaching time with experts in their subject.
The only difference is in the name of these sessions; at Oxford they are 'tutorials' while Cambridge calls them 'supervisions'.
You are required to prepare an essay or other piece of work in advance of these sessions and then meet with your tutor to discuss the work, perhaps with one or two other students.
Sessions may happen as frequently as once or even twice each week, depending on which degree you are studying for.
Should I apply to Oxbridge?
If you're not sure whether Oxbridge is the right step for you, we recommend you think about the following factors before making your final decision:
- Course content - look at the material covered for your chosen subject, and whether you will learn more about what interests you most.
- A level grades - be realistic here, do you think you can obtain the grades required to get into Oxbridge? Remember, most courses require a minimum of AAA.
- Workload - Oxbridge degrees notoriously carry a lot of work with them (more than your average degree) so consider whether this is something you can cope with
- Debating - giving your opinion on a topic and defending it are a major part of the Oxbridge tutorial system - is this something you would enjoy?
- Stress - remember that there is a lot of academic pressure at Oxbridge, which doesn't suit everyone.
- Customs and traditions - this means getting involved in dressing up in black or white tie, or evening gowns, as there are lots of formal events at both universities, including going to dinners with your tutors and attending fancy college balls.
- Learning methods - while the one-to-one tutorial system forms the basis of teaching at Oxbridge, you’ll also need to be able to spend a lot of time studying independently.
- Environment - the old and peculiarly scholarly nature of Oxbridge’s architecture contributes to the solemn, learned atmosphere that makes these cities so conducive to studying, but might not be everyone's cup of tea.
- Community - if you’re someone who can see yourself in a smaller student community, knowing everyone in your year, then the family-like atmosphere of an Oxbridge college might be a good option for you.
Take a look at our Should I Apply To Oxbridge? guide for more information.
How do I decide whether to apply to Oxford or Cambridge?
The best way to choose between these two great universities is to look at the course content. Which one covers everything you want to learn more about? Does it focus on particular aspects that interest you most?
Read through the syllabus carefully, and if you have any questions, contact the unviersity directly who will then be able to tell you more.
Other factors to consider when choosing between Oxford and Cambridge include:
How do I apply to Oxbridge?
If you've decided you want to apply to Oxbridge, then you will need to:
- Choose a course
- Choose a college
- Register with UCAS Apply
- Complete any additional Oxbridge-related forms
- Take any Oxbridge admissions tests
- Submit any required written work, such as essays or reports
- Attend your Oxbridge interview
- Wait to hear on a decision.
For more in-depth advice and information, please see our Oxbridge Application guide.
What are the entry requirements for Oxbridge?
The typical A Level offer for Cambridge is A*A*A for most sciences courses and A*AA for arts courses or 40–42 in the IB, including core points, with 776 at Higher Level.
AAA is usually required at Advanced Higher Grade, for students in Scotland.
The typical A level offer for Oxford for students studying A-levels will range between A*A*A and AAA depending on the course. Please don't that they do not accept General Studies as a subject.
For those taking Access courses, the requirement will be all level 3 credits at Distinction.
Discover more about Oxford entry requirements in detail.
How do I write an Oxbridge personal statement?
To write a successful Oxbridge personal statement, we recommend you take the following steps:
- Start early - a great personal statement takes time to put together
- Write a memorable opening - remember, your statement has to grab the admisson tutor's attention and make them want to read to the end
- Focus on your strengths - don't just limit these to academic ones. Think about your work experience, skills and personal traits that make you a great candidate for this course
- Talk about which aspect(s) of the subject appeal to you and why - tutors want to see passion and enthusiasm, so make sure this shines through
- Include your hobbies and other relevant interests or extracurricular activities - this adds a personal touch that will make the tutors want to meet you
- Be honest - don't embellish the truth or lie outright, or you will probably be caught out in the interview!
- Give it your own unique voice - don't use humour, jokes, cliches or over-used phrases the tutors have heard a hundred times before
- Round off with a succinct conclusion - most students do this by talking about their future plans and career path.
- Revise, edit and get feedback - ask trusted friends or family members to give their thoughts on your statement, and incorporate any comments or suggestions that you think make it better
- Check for spelling and grammar - don't just use a Spellchecker for this though. Read it through carefully several times before pasting it into the form and submitting it.
For more information and advice, please see our How To Prepare For An Oxbridge Interview guide.
What admissions tests do I need to sit for Oxbridge?
For those applying to Cambridge you will have to sit:
- Cambridge Thinking Skills Assessment: Computer science, economics, engineering, land economy, physical or biological sciences at some colleges.
- Cambridge Law Test: Law at most colleges.
- Cambridge Language Test: Languages at all colleges except Hughes Hall.
- Biomedical Admissions Test (BMAT): Medicine and veterinary medicine.
Candidates may also have to do a preparatory study and an additional test at interview, depending on the college.
For Oxford, candidates will have to sit:
- Physics Aptitude Test (PAT): Physics, engineering and materials science
- Oxford Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA): PPE, economics & management, philosophy, psychology & linguistics, experimental psychology and geography.
- Mathematics Aptitude Test (MAT): Mathematics and computer science.
- National Admissions Test for Law (LNAT): Law (Jurisprudence).
- History Aptitude Test (HAT): History.
- English Literature Aptitude Test (ELAT): English language and literature.
- Classics Admissions Test (CAT): Classics.
- Modern Languages Admissions Tests (MLAT): Languages.
- Biomedical Admissions Test (BMAT): Medicine and biomedical sciences.
How do I prepare for an Oxbridge interview?
To prepare for an Oxbridge interview, we recommend you:
- Start preparing early - as soon as you receive your invitation letter.
- Make notes - these should why you are applying for the course, the course syllabus, background knowledge, your personal statement and news articles or magazines you've read recently
- Do some practice interviews - these could be with your tutor(s) at school, or with a friend or family member
- Dress smartly and comfortbaly on the day
- Get there on time
- Don't panic or worry about making mistakes - tutors just want to see how you think
For more tips and advice, please our Oxbridge Interviews guide.
Further tips for applying to Oxbridge
- Choose a course you are enthusiastic about
- Read widely around your chosen subject. It's not enough just to do well at school or college - tutors have often devoted their life to their subject, so of course they want to teach students who share their passions.
- Do practice talking about your subject: not just with your teachers and fellow students, but with other friends and family members. Talking to non-experts is an excellent exercise as it gets you thinking in new ways and helps you to find new ways of expressing the concepts and issues involved.
- Don't copy someone else's statement - UCAS scans all applications for plagiarism, and your application will be penalised if you are caught cheating.
- Don't spend too much time worrying about which college to apply to. Just pick which ones seem best for you based on your research.
- Don't lose heart! It is a competitive environment. However, the only way to guarantee you will not be successful is to not try at all.